Login Register

UPDATE: Search for missing Bideford yachtswoman Ona Mary Unwin called-off

By NDJNews  |  Posted: October 16, 2012

  • MISSING: Ona Unwin and her 31ft yacht Seagair remain missing

Comments (0)

The search for a 65-year-old Bideford woman who has been missing since she set sail on her newly-purchased yacht on Saturday has been called off.

A full-scale air and sea operation lasting around 30 hours was launched on Sunday night after skipper Ona Mary Unwin, from Northam, failed to make contact with her husband.

Fears are fading for Mrs Unwin, who has not been seen since she departed Mousehole on her 31ft yacht, called Seagair, at 6.30pm on Saturday.

The final shore line search for Mrs Unwin, which took place this morning, has now been called off by coastguards.

Despite the main part of the search being called off yesterday evening, a coastguard team from Lands’ End carried out a further shoreline search on the low water mark in Sennen Cove this morning which ended at around 12pm with nothing found.

Fred Caygill, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, confirmed it had been one of the biggest sea searches of the year so far with 150 coastguards involved on Sunday and Monday.

He said: “Now it will be just be a reactive search. Any searches carried out now will be on the back of a sighting. Of course there is still the possibility she is alive, you do hear of stories where people have swam ashore but we can’t tell at this stage.”

Throughout Monday, a number of search and rescue teams were searching for Mrs Unwin and Seagair.

Although the wreckage has not been formally identified, Falmouth Coastguard said it was likely to be that of the missing Seagair.

At 5pm, the coastguard confirmed the search had been “terminated” and said there were no intentions for it to be re-started.

The spokesperson confirmed there were “similarities” between the missing Seagair and the debris, which was discovered in the water and on the beach surrounding Cowloe Rocks.

Ian Guy, watch manager at Falmouth Coastguard, said: "It's not 100 per cent confirmed that the debris found is from the yacht we are looking for but we are fairly confident.

"Looking at the time elapsed, it is at least 30 hours. That time in the water is well beyond what we would consider survivable.

"It doesn't look good. We have no current plans to continue the search. That may be reviewed tomorrow."

Devon and Cornwall Police said the wreckage was “suspected” to be that of Seagair but said it would need to be formally identified and examined.

Coastguard crews, search and rescue helicopters from RMB Chivenor and RNAS Culdorse and a host of lifeboats have been searching the water, marinas and ports between Penzance and Bideford for the last 30 hours.

Ona Mary Unwin left Mousehole to go to her hometown of Bideford at 6.30pm on Saturday, after purchasing 'Seagair' for around £32,000 on Thursday from Falmouth Yacht Brokers.

Her husband, Carol, who she recently remarried, alerted the emergency services after she failed to make contact on Sunday night as expected.

She was last seen by marina workers who slipped her boat's moorings in Mousehole. Local sailors warned her she would not be able to handle the journey alone but she ignored them and sailed off.

Steve Huxley, Search and Rescue Communications Manager at Falmouth Coastguard, said she "hadn't been sailing for a few years".

“The woman departed Mousehole on Saturday evening onboard her newly purchased vessel. We understand that she was heading for Bideford.

"We have been unable to find her and are very concerned for her safety."

''There's possibly a radio onboard that doesn't work. We know there is no beacon registered to that boat. We don't know if she has a life raft onboard.

"We've put out a broadcast to shipping, we've got an air search and rescue operation, and we've got our teams out trying to gather intelligence.

"We are treating this very urgently. We are expecting the weather to deteriorate."

During the full-scale search operation, a number of search and rescue teams were scrambled to help including search and rescue Sea King helicopters from RMB Chivenor and RNAS Culdrose, coastguard teams from North Devon and North Cornwall and RNLI lifeboats from Penlee, Sennen Cove and St Ives. A coastguard fixed wing aeroplane, usually used for counter-pollution surveillance, also flew from Coventry to join the search.

Fred Caygill, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "There were around ten coastguard rescue teams searching and investigating local marinas and ports between Penzance and Bideford."

Mary, who featured in a Channel 4 documentary called 'The Pawn King' in 2011, bought the £32,000 Seagair with a banker’s draft.

Staff at Falmouth Yacht Brokers said she visited the ship yard with her new husband and paid for the moody yacht, which is white with a blue stripe, with a banker's draft.

She left Falmouth on her own in the yacht on Friday without collecting paperwork and then left Mousehole on Saturday.

It is thought her husband had driven home to Devon and was waiting for her but she never arrived and he raised the alarm.

Jayne Hobkirk, from the ship brokers, said it sounded like Ms Unwin hadn’t done any sailing for “some time.”

She said: "They were just a nice middle-aged couple who were looking for a nice boat to do some coastal cruising in.

"She didn’t say anything about any trips. I haven’t spoken to her husband since.

"She said she had a captain's ticket, but it sounded like she hadn't done any sailing for sometime.

"I told her to get a refresher course, but that that would normally take some days."

Neighbours said missing Mary remarried her millionaire husband Carol, 61, just ten days before he bought her the boat.

They live in a one-storey gated property in a leafy part of Bideford.

Neighbour Graham Ash, 74, said she had re-married her husband ten days ago.

He said: "We have only just moved here and I have seen her around in a Union Jack Mini Cooper.

"I believe they were re-married around ten days ago. I have spoken to the husband Carol and he is a very nice chap.

"We speak when I cut my hedges and he comes over to chat. Most of the time we have been here Mary hasn't been living in the house.”

A spokesperson for Falmouth Coastguard said it was a "high possibility" that the debris found in the Sennen Cove area, were from the missing yacht and said photographs comparing the two “matched”.

Read more from North Devon Journal

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

max 4000 characters
  • Sconewars  |  October 16 2012, 9:29AM

    It can be a female or name male. Carol Reed was the male director of the film, The Third Man.

    |   2
  • accom  |  October 16 2012, 7:27AM

    Her husband's called Carol???

    |   -3